Somewhere, right at this very moment, there is a Newcastle fan staring intently at the Premier League table. A broad smile sweeps across their face as they notice the Magpies nestled comfortably in fifth place, just a point behind Chelsea and nine ahead of rivals Sunderland.
Even the most optimistic member of the Toon Army couldn’t have foreseen the inspired rise up the table after last seasons mid-table finish. Their uprising was ironically set in motion by the sale of the highly popular Andy Carroll, as Alan Pardew’s retention football coupled with his shrewd signings has gradually transformed St James’ Park back into a revered fortress.
The club appears to have emerged unscathed from a difficult period in their history. Their loyal army of supporters have stood by them despite their descent into the Championship and now that certain expectations have been achieved, do they dare dream of more famous nights in Europe?
Only time will tell if Newcastle will be able to cement their place in the European qualification spots come May. What’s more intriguing however is whether they can establish themselves as one of the current crop of ‘big clubs’. Not big in terms of stature but rather their ability to consistently compete at the top of the table. Tottenham and Manchester City have burrowed their way into the coveted ‘top 4’, why can’t Newcastle do the same?
Under Pardew’s leadership Newcastle have seen their direct style of play renovated by a philosophy that focuses on patient build up and maintaining possession. At the heart of this, core midfield players such as Yohan Cabaye and Danny Guthrie have been influential in aiding this transition. The change in mentality will mean fewer goal gluts but it’s proving to stem the flow of goals conceded at the other end of the pitch. This new approach seeks to adopt the mantra of many top European sides like Valencia and AC Milan, with whom Newcastle will soon hope to emulate.
The fortunes of the football club, for this season at least, will revolve around the prolonged good form of striker Demba Ba. The ‘smiling assassin’, as he’s known on Tyneside has announced he is happy at the club despite continued reports of a move away and has spoken of his joy playing alongside Senegalese compatriot Papiss Cisse.
With the transfer window now firmly shut until the summer, the major concern regarding Ba will perhaps surround his troubled injury past. Tony Pulis notoriously cancelled Ba’s impending transfer to Stoke after describing his knee as a “ticking time bomb”. The player himself admitted, “The knee isn’t 100%,” after his transfer to West Ham but has insisted “It’s fine. I can play football; I know how to manage it.” (Guardian)
At present the fans seem content with Mike Ashley’s ruling at Newcastle. After making a number of questionable decisions throughout his reign, he should be praised for ensuring a swift return to the top flight. Ashley strikes me as an incisive businessman despite his desired portrayel as a supporter and the £35m sale of Andy Carroll has proved to be an inspired decision. In order for Newcastle to progress however, it is vital that they maintain their nucleus of new household names. The likes of Tim Krul and Cheick Tiote have attracted envious glances from rival managers and it’ll be an intriguing test of Ashley’s resolve as to whether they remain at the club beyond this season.
Aside from the inevitable flurry of incoming bids, it’s crucial that Ashley continues his investment in the rapidly evolving transfer market. It’s fair to point out that Newcastle do not currently possess a prominent ‘star’ player who is renowned on the world stage. Whilst this maybe an ingredient to their current success, with the team benefiting their much publicised team spirit, it’s important that a club like Newcastle can attract players of the highest calibre. Could Newcastle realistically attract the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafeal Van Der Vaart, as Spurs have done?
We’ve seen many surprising teams surpass expectations and clinch a European spot in recent years, but very few have been able to sustain their dominance. Everton are a club currently wilting under a lack of investment with the club’s transfer policy resembling a top nightclub, one goes in only when another heads out.
Fulham have failed to recover from their defeat in the 2010 Europa League final and the subsequent departure of Roy Hodgson whilst Villa have also seen themselves spiral down the league after a combination of both suspended investment and the exit of a very astute manager.
The mark of a great side is their capability to replace their existing stars with a new breed of players from the academy. Unfortunately, despite Ashley’s investment at youth level, very few players look likely of making the grade. Nile Ranger heads the list of local produce but his career has become so embroiled in controversy that it looks like he’ll leave the club under a Ravel Morrison shaped cloud.
Pardew remains unfazed by speculation linking him with the vacant England job and appears entirely focused on the job in hand. Much like Arsene Wenger, he seems capable of installing an exciting style of football in amongst a relatively average squad. Whereas Arsenal fans are slowly turning on their manager, I’m sure Newcastle fans would love to emulate the uniterrupted European qualification the Gunners have enjoyed over the past decade.
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